By Don Simpson | October 13, 2011
Director: Sergei Loznitsa
Writer: Sergei Loznitsa
Starring: Viktor Nemets, Vladimir Golovin, Olga Shuvalova, Dmitriy Gotsdiner, Aleksey Vertkov
A prologue reveals a lifeless human body as it is tossed into a hole and promptly buried in cement and dirt. With this short opening sequence it becomes bitingly obvious that the joyful title of Russian writer-director Sergei Loznitsa’s film is intended to reek of cynicism and irony.
Soon thereafter we meet Georgy (Viktor Nemets); he is our truck driving guide across a dilapidated and somewhat foreboding Russian landscape. As if trapped in a surrealist nightmare, Georgy is constantly delayed and/or detoured from delivering his cargo of flour to its destination. This, however, allows the extremely affable Georgy ample opportunity to fraternize with some shady check-point security officers, a couple of mischievous thieves, a teenage prostitute (Olga Shuvalova), and an elderly wanderer (Vladimir Golovin) who hijacks the narrative (ala Wojciech Has’ 1965 masterpiece The Saragossa Manuscript) temporarily to tell a tale of woe from his World War II days.
Like a horror film that has been rendered nearly comatose by downers, Loznitsa exudes an uncompromising knack for directorial patience. The narrative purposefully weaves between time and space thus communicating to the audience that Russian society is just as bad off now as it was in the past. The pessimistic and seemingly post-apocalyptic parable to be found within the tangential tirades of My Joy tells of a Russia that is still haunted by its history and stuck in a perpetual quagmire of corruption, decay, violence, and inhumanity. (Loznitsa left Russia in 2001, and I can certainly see why.)
Known for his rich resume of award winning documentaries (Revue, Blockade, The Settlement), Loznitsa opts to tell this harrowing tale with gritty neo-realism. The unabashed ugliness of Russian society is ready for its close-up, but the deep focus of famed Romanian cinematographer Oleg Mutu’s (The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) impeccably framed mise-en-scène is equally intrigued by what is occurring in the background. Mutu’s lens develops a certain somber visual poetry with the images, rendering My Joy precisely like a dream…a haunting and daunting one at that.